Wagner Alleges Bribes and Corruption at City Hall

Malibu City Hall

“This weekend, Jefferson Wagner executed an affidavit that summarized various incidents that he witnessed, heard about, and/or has been told about that evidence criminal activity and potential corruption within the City of Malibu at the highest levels,” newly-elected Malibu City Council Member Bruce Silverstein said during his swearing-in remarks at the Monday, Dec. 14, city council meeting. 

The announcement came as Council Member Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner was “terming out” of his post after two non-consecutive terms (2008-12 and 2016-20) on the city’s governing board, to be replaced by Silverstein and two other new council members—Steve Uhring and Paul Grisanti. 

Speaking to The Malibu Times on Tuesday, Dec. 15, Malibu City Attorney Christi Hogin, who began her term as the city’s top lawyer in 1990, denied any knowledge of criminal activity at City Hall.

The affidavit Silverstein presented in his remarks was signed by Wagner, a longtime city council member who served as Malibu mayor twice and who owns Zuma Jay’s Surf Shop on Pacific Coast Highway. 

In the most recent election, Wagner endorsed candidates Steve Uhring, Bruce Silverstein and Andy Lyon, two of whom prevailed. In the race, Silverstein publicly pledged to work to remove Malibu City Manager Reva Feldman and former Malibu City Attorney Christi Hogin, who announced her retirement from Malibu and the other cities where she served as city attorney shortly after the conclusion of the election. 

“I took the path of trying to be the nice guy and not to buck City Hall and roll with the majority,” Wagner said during his outgoing remarks. “I was weak and I think about it quite often. That weakness drove me to endorse candidates who were stronger than myself. And now that Bruce and Steve have proven themselves to the Malibu voters, my suggestion to them is to be tactful, use a bit of courtesy and fulfill your commitments you made during your campaign with diplomacy.”

Wagner said he had given Silverstein a seven-page affidavit detailing events he had observed, which Silverstein presented minutes later in his own speech. In a brief phone call with The Malibu Times  on Tuesday, the day after the council turnover, Wagner said he was not willing to speak about the contents of the affidavit, saying he had secured an attorney. Silverstein provided a copy of the affidavit but declined to be interviewed by The Malibu Times .

Some of the events detailed in the sworn statement included an alleged 2009 attempt by a “vendor/contractor who was bidding to perform various services in connections with” the remodeling of the current Malibu City Hall. The affidavit alleged that Wagner was offered his choice from costly gifts including a trip to Las Vegas, a vacation in Costa Rica or extensive home repairs. All of this was offered to Wagner, according to the affidavit, in return for voting in support of the vendor’s selection—which would have required at least three votes. Wagner’s affidavit said he “would not be surprised” if other council members had “received and/or accepted similar offers.” 

The affidavit alleged that Wagner described these events to Malibu City Attorney Christi Hogin; however, Hogin did not recall the event when speaking to The Malibu Times. Hogin also said the law requires the city to award contracts to “the lowest responsible bidder.”

“It isn’t a situation where somebody can come in and buy a vote,” she said. According to Hogin, any reported attempts at bribery would have been reported to the district attorney’s office or to the sheriff’s department to pass along to the district attorney.

The affidavit also described a 2018 telephone call Wagner received from former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who, at the time, was running to obtain the Democratic Party’s nomination for California governor, which he ultimately did not receive. Villaraigosa allegedly asked Wagner about two matters: whether Wagner was going to support local real estate investors the Mani Brothers’ bid to put in a crosswalk and parking lot for their hotel, the Malibu Beach Inn, and whether Wagner was going to vote “Yes” on increasing Feldman’s term and salary. The affidavit said that the Manis’ project was approved and supervised by city staff led by the city manager, not the Malibu public works or planning commissions. 

According to statements issued by the city and reported at the time, “[The project was] not a City of Malibu or Caltrans project. The work was mandated by the California Coastal Commission and permitted by Caltrans.”

In late May of 2018, the LA District Attorney’s office raided Wagner’s home, an event that the affidavit implied was connected to Feldman’s contract negotiation, as Wagner was the sole dissenting vote on her contract extension.

No details about the evidence search—why it was instigated or by whom—ever surfaced but, according to Hogin, the city had not been involved. “The city didn’t have any advance notice of that,” nor did the local sheriff’s station, Hogin said. “But I’m sure that was pretty traumatizing … I certainly understand why [Wagner would] be upset.”

Finally, Wagner’s affidavit included allegations of “corruption” by city council, “solicit[ing] and receiv[ing] incentives” and “favors” being done for “friends and/or supporters of [Feldman].” 

Wagner did not name any specific city council members, staff members or residents in his affidavit. When reached, Feldman did not offer a statement and instead directed The Malibu Times to City Attorney Hogin, who said any reports of criminal behavior would have been directed to the district attorney.

Wagner’s statement said that he hoped for an investigation led by Silverstein and one other member of the city council and that he hoped that no corruption would be found “beyond some rogue members of the city staff.” But, the statement said, the appearance of “smoke swirling around Malibu City Hall” necessitated investigation. 

Wagner told The Malibu Times that he did not experience intimidation within City Hall nor any attempt to dissuade him from coming forward. When asked why it was Silverstein who presented the affidavit instead of Wagner himself, Wagner reiterated the language he used in his council speech on Monday, saying he was “too weak to do this stuff on [his] own, too nice, too down-the-middle” and that someone “stronger than [him] in their words and their knowledge about law needs to take over.” Wagner said he simply hoped the affidavit “exposes transparency and truth.”

Silverstein called for the scheduling of a special meeting to create a special investigation committee of the city council. Barring that, Silverstein requested to add the matter to the agenda for the first city council meeting of 2021. He also encouraged city employees with any knowledge of wrongdoing to come forward, as well as requesting no documents be deleted from Wagner, Peak or Mullen’s city computers until the investigation could be completed.

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